Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Legend of Dirt

Jenny Leading Cloud, a White River Sioux, once said that American Indians think of the earth and the whole universe as a never-ending circle, and in this circle man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers; the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find -- they are all relatives.

I guess this includes vagabonds, too. I usually dodge them at all cost when I'm downtown, lest I want to lose a few dollars or some spare change as I'm a very kind-hearted person. I once gave a guy $20 in Chicago on the condition that he didn't use it for food or shelter, rather that he buy as much booze as possible or the biggest rock he could find. "Oh, thank God. Finally, somebody who sees it like it is!" he said, running off with a handful of bills while 30 of my pledge brothers laughed.

Little Rock doesn't have much of a bum problem, but we do have a funny habit of making them local celebrities. The best was a man affectionately dubbed "Cantrell Carl." He slept under an I-430 overpass and rode an old 10-speed bike. Anyone from Little Rock knows this name, and most have some personal story about Carl. I once saw him get harassed by McDonald's employees over a cup of coffee. But nobody's seen Carl in a long time, and I think he may have either died due to exposure, or he finally took up that offer from his rich California relative.

There is no doubt that this man has a name, but in certain social circles in Little Rock he is simply known as "Dirt." He is obviously homeless, and he continuously walks the streets, rummaging through dumpsters for nourishment and listening to his Walkman, which is rumored to be nothing more than static. Like with others, there are many different stories about Dirt's past and how he came to be such a derilict, most of which involve a permanent acid trip.

I like to think that somewhere out there, all homeless people have a twin that lives a completely opposite lifestyle of luxury, comfort and ease. Dirt's is named Gold, and he sees Dirt from time to time, passing by in his Mercedes G55 on the way to his super-exclusive country club. Gold made his fortune in an early '80s savings and loan scandal, and he doesn't mind rubbing it in your face.

Unlike Cantrell Carl, who primarily restricted himself to the bounds of Cantrell Road (Highway 10), Dirt has been spotted all over the city, sometimes even well beyond its borders. I've even heard of sightings from as far as Memphis. One things's for sure, with all of that walking Dirt must be in serious shape. I'm talking Bruce Lee cut.

I thought about Dirt some over the holidays. He loiters at an EZ Mart near my house, and I think he stays back in the woods of Alsopp Park, because I see him nearby often. I can't help but wonder what he thinks about on cold nights, huddled up all alone under old newspapers. Does he think about his family, the life he once had or the dreams he had for his future as a young boy?

I bet I know what he's thinking about tonight: Why the hell did those two laughing jerks in a Solara take my picture this morning?

Wingy’s Addendum: Intrigued by the lines written above, my buddy Brad tracked down Dirt yesterday and asked him for his life story. It turns out that he’s from Texarkana of all places. Apparently, the guy stayed in college for over a decade, but spent most of his time doing all kinds of mind-expanding drugs and harassing girls at the bar. After his parents completely cut him off, Dirt crashed on his friends’ couches, endlessly driving from town to town with his dog like a gypsy in the night until finally becoming one... so sad.

Obviously, that was a joke. The next one is not.

Alex's Addendum: I received the following in an e-mail Friday morning ... Guess what? I passed by "Dirt" on the way to Withers' house last night. I turned around, stopped and said, "Excuse me, sir. May I give you a few bucks?" He talks! He said, "Sure." He approached my car and accepted the four dollars I had to give him. I asked him what his name was, and he said, "Keith." I said, "I am Alex. Have a good night, bud. I’m glad I could help you out." He said "Thank you, sir." I drove off, and he walked off into the dark night. True story.


ladeng012 said...

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Anonymous said...

I met Dirt's brother....his name's not "Gold", but rather "Mud" and he is equally as trashy and bum-like as Dirt...only a little wetter.

- JB (thats right...anonymous)

Anonymous said...

A few things:

1) I seem to remember something about a hand full of change being pitched at a homeless man at close range in Chicago.

2) Dirt has a MP3 player now. That makes me feel a little less special walking around with my new Zune. Maybe I should have gone with the iPod after all.

3) Whoever this Wingy person is, he seems right on with his story. I have heard that Dirt is currently mentoring another on this path. Rumor has it that this protege` is the chosen one spoken about in ancient hobo lore.

4) Brother named "mud" clever. Actually, to use a great cliche`, it is more like mud spelled backwards.

Yours truely in love, spirit and honor-bound devotion,

Brad Warrick

ps: notice the serial comma? I always liked using those.

Laura said...

so...i was thinking we should all get together...the gang...whoever and take this guy out for the most fabulous dinner ever. you know...ask him about his life, etc. etc.

Charlie said...

Better yet: Let's all approach him in the cold, ask him if he's hungry and tell him we'll get him somewhere warm for a quick bite.

Then, we'll pull up to the fanciest restaurant we can find, take off our coats and reveal that we're all wearing tuxedos and ballroom gowns. He'll probably have a panic attack, but we'll insist and drag him inside — rags, bad smell and all.

For hours we'll talk about the stalk market, our mansions and how much we despise those that can't take care of themselves. "Those people" we'll call them, and whenever he uses the wrong utensil, we'll call him out, laughing out loud and toasting to "the poor man."

"Try the escargo, Keith, I'm sure you've never had it before ... outside of the storm drains, I mean."

By the time we're done with him, Dirt'll never accept anything from a stranger again.

allison said...

Oh yes, Charlie, indeed you will be punished down the road for this one.

p.s. it's stock, not stalk

Anonymous said...

so love Dirt, I mean Keith, he is too sweet. Bear and I saw him around Alsopp when we were headed to the park and said hello and helped him out with a few dollars. Such a happy spirit for a nomad. Does anyone know what happend to the bicycle homeless guy that really traveled around everywhere, but favored the markham/rodney parham area? Oh, and if anyone ever see's the guy that hangs out around the 12th Street Walgreens, with his dog, he loves ceral bars!his name is Jim and his dogs name is Candy.

This is Bates by the way, sorry it says anonymous.

Charlie said...

No, I actually invest all my money in beans. My broker, Jack, has made me a fortune in the past year. The market's so new and elite, I'm not really surprised that you haven't heard about it yet.

[Charlie turns and looks out his high-rise, corner-office windows]

"Those people."

Charlie said...

Amanda, you are too sweet for words. I'll make sure to keep some cereal bars in my truck for Jim, because I pass by that Walgreens all the time. Thanks for the heads up!

Laura said...

but what if Keith unzipped his "dirty clothes" as if it were on big suit(like on cartoons) and had the most spectacular and expensive tuxedo. what if his etiquette was way beyond ours...then Charlie...we would all look stupid.

Charlie said...

Then we would surely feel like horses' patoots. Brilliant, Laura.

I know: Don't call you Shirley.

Anonymous said...

First of all, referring to Wingy's Addendum, it should be known that said Wingy is too much of a wuss/homeless-o-phobe to talk to "Dirt". He could never achieve such a feat as to obtain a story from the man, as he would most likely only throw objects at him and giggle like a small child, while looking from friend to friend with a silly grin on his face.
Secondly, "Cantrell Carl" never "rode" his bike, dearburt. You as well as I know he only walked it. It was merely a prop in his endless play of homeless...ness. I've many a time given him food and never got a word out of him, although he always seemed grateful for something warm. I haven't seen him in a long time, but I'd like to think he just moved on. Maybe to the likes of Benton, or Cabot. Where the ladies prefer them a lil' smelly with limited means of transportation.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed your coverage of our two favorite bums and their lives and will check back for updates on the elusive Dirt.

Anonymous said...

carl is dead fyi- i think there was something in the paper a year or so back

Anonymous said...

There is (or was a few years back) a hobo camp setup near the river. I suspect that is probably where dirt is or was living. I haven't been by there to see if it is still there, but I suspect it is as I still see the same homeless people in that area.